Where Sexual Abuse News Remains Under Wraps

In Cuba and Nicaragua

By Circles Robinson

US Congressman John Conyers, under fire for sexual harassment accusations, suddenly resigned on Monday, December 5th. Photo: democracynow.org

HAVANA TIMES – Almost every day for the last few months, brave women and some men have brought to light the cases in the United States of sexual abuse and misconduct they were victims of in the past at the hands of the powerful.  While some of the perpetrators claim amnesia, framing the incidents as long past, unproven and forgotten, the victims remember them as if they occurred yesterday.

Many of the big-name abusers in Washington, Hollywood, Wall Street and beyond have, resigned or been fired from public offices and companies, and seen their careers crumble in shame. Others try to hang on, hoping this is just another media show that will soon blow over. If it has worked so far for Donald Trump why not them?

Curiously it is in the United States, where the victims are finally losing their fear and countless cases are coming to light, with important consequences for the perpetrators. Likewise, previously buried cases like Anita Hill’s denunciation of now Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas are creeping back in the news.

Meanwhile, in Cuba, there is a resounding silence. Although negative news involving the US is normally commonplace, almost none of the current sexual misconduct cases have been reported in Granma, the official Communist Party newspaper, whose print edition along with the mirrored State TV news is how most Cubans get their international news. 

Cubadebate did report on the charges against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Photo: democracynow.org

A search through the Party’s online only site Cubadebate.cu (which the vast majority of Cubans never see) does show some limited coverage on the accusations against actor Kevin Spacey, Hollywood Mogul Harvey Weinstein and former president George H.W. Bush.

The Communist Party media censors have always maintained that the private lives of leaders, politicians and other public figures, from the late Fidel Castro on down, is a private matter and off-limits for the Cuban media and the eyes of the general population.  The thinking goes that any mention of accusations would be succumbing to prohibited yellow journalism. While pressure for sex to obtain or sustain jobs, grades or other opportunities is considered commonplace on the island, the cases are almost never denounced or reported.

At the same time there are several campaigns against gender violence taking place in Cuba, which are sometimes in the media with spots and posters, spearheaded by the Oscar Romero Center, the UN sponsored UNETE (Unite) No to violence against women campaign and the IberoAmerican and African Network of Masculinity.

In Nicaragua Stonewalling Worked for Ortega

While the cases of sexual misconduct by those in positions of economic or political power mount in the US there is one dormant high profile case in Central America far more serious than those currently being reported up North.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega stands accused of 19 years of sexual abuse and harassment of his adopted daughter Zoilamerica Ortega Murillo. The well-documented abuse began when she was eleven. Ortega never denied the accusations (he never said anything) but let his wife, now Vice President Rosario Murillo, defend her powerful man at the expense of her own daughter.

Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega with the rest of their children during the press conference in 1998 when Murillo defended her husband and accused her daughter Zoilamerica of being a compulsive liar. Photo: laprensa.com.ni

In her statement at the time Murillo concluded:

“We want to make clear to our people that this is a falsehood, that it’s a blow to our family. We want to keep it as a family affair…. I repeat that we are moved and pained. We are going to say no more, we are not going to enter into the fray, into speaking and having to speak again. We’re not going to attack anyone, or go against anyone. We have a heart full of love and of the need to understand…”

After making public in 1998 what she had suffered, Zoilamerica, who probably would have accepted Ortega’s acknowledgement of what he did and plea for forgiveness had it been offered, took her case to the Nicaraguan courts, the National Assembly, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights and other bodies. She never received justice; instead, the Nicaraguan lawmakers, in a gentleman’s pact, refused to take away Ortega’s parliamentary immunity so he could stand trial. Then a judge from Ortega’s party said the statute of limitations had expired, ending any chance to hear the case in Nicaragua.

Regarding the recent wave of cases of misconduct coming to light in the United States, the official FSLN website el19digital.com has barely covered the sexual abuse and misconduct.  The independent Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa has covered several of the different cases on its International pages.

Unlike most Democrats and Republicans in the US that are trying to distance themselves from the denounced abusers, the Sandinista Party (FSLN) in Nicaragua continues to treat the alleged crimes committed by their leader as if they never happened.

The case against Daniel Ortega could have been precedent setting by punishing sexual abuse and misconduct by the powerful. Instead, impunity remained – and remains – the norm. 

Meanwhile, the Nicaraguan women’s movement, human rights groups and the Network of Women against Violence continue their decades-long struggle -before and after the Ortega denunciation-, to make visible generalized abuse of women and girls, including increased femicide, in Nicaragua and push for change in how these crimes are dealt with. They also conduct prevention campaigns.

Returning to Havana, the testimony and the ten years of efforts by Zoilamerica to obtain justice were never reported on in the government censored media. The news blackout was quite effective, as most Cubans never even heard of the case. 

For those interested in reading the entire testimony (in Spanish) of Zoilamerica that was aired live on TV in Nicaragua in May, 1998, here is the link.

Why the US and not Great Britain

The BBC reported last week that there are few sexual harassment cases that make the news in Great Britain because of a major difference in the libel laws in the two countries.

“In the UK, there is a key point in libel law that explains a lot. When someone sues, they don’t have to prove the story is wrong. The publisher – for example, the newspaper or website – has to prove their story is right.

 “It means US media law is “radically different” to the UK, says Stuart Karle, a professor at Columbia Journalism School in New York and former general counsel for the Wall Street Journal.

“In the US, the burden is on the plaintiff – the person alleging that he or she has been defamed – to prove the statement is false,” he says.

“So – compared to the UK – the burden of proof is flipped. Americans are less likely to sue, so US media are more likely to break the story.”

One thought on “Where Sexual Abuse News Remains Under Wraps

  • And Ortega, in bed with the Catholic Church that stymied him before he dropped trou for them, upheld the “no abortions for any reason” stance of the Catholic Church. Together they ensured that a child of 9 years old, raped by her father since age 6, became pregnant with twins. Doctors told them the pregnancy would kill her but Ortega and the Catholic Church refused to let doctors save her life. (Her life was saved by relatives who smuggled her out of Nicaragua, got a life-saving abortion, and smuggled her back. So Ortega and Co. put out a warrant for their arrest that has never been served – just held as a threat over them.)

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